Day 8: Solemn: An Advent that Looks Beyond the Blow-Up Santa
Editor’s Note: For day 8 of our Advent series “The Day of Joy Drew Near,” DC Service Corps member Bohdan O’Shaughnessy contemplates the solemn nature of Advent and Christmas.
Admittedly, the word “solemn” is not a term I have associated with Advent or Christmas. I typically would assign “joy” or “anticipation” to describe this time of year. However, reflecting on the solemness of the Nativity narrative, I picture the moment of silence after the hysteria of Christmas night—the frantic search for a place to stay, the pain and uncertainty of childbirth, the cries from a newly-delivered baby Jesus—has died down for the Holy Family. In this moment, I envision Mary and Joseph making eye contact and beginning to grasp the seriousness of what has just occurred. Practically, as new parents, their lives are forever impacted by the responsibility of raising a child. On a deeper level, however, they recognize that this baby, now sleeping peacefully in swaddling clothes, is no ordinary child. I am not sure of the extent to which Mary and Joseph understood the implications of the angel Gabriel’s words on the night of the Annunciation, but surely they anticipated that with this birth, a major change in the course of humanity’s divine experience was imminent.
Envisioning Christmas in light of this solemness can help us stay focused on the true meaning of Advent. Whether it be hearing “All I Want for Christmas is You” blasting over loudspeakers, passing by dazzling lights and decorations in front yards, or mulling over a creative Secret Santa gift, there are many distractions that can draw our attention. Recently, our house manager, Stephan, led a fantastic formation session on the meaning of Advent for me and the other DC corps members. He spoke about how Advent is a time of preparation, both for Jesus’ actual birth and also for the second coming of Jesus, an event that could come at any moment. Therefore, it is imperative that we ask ourselves, am I fit to encounter the Lord in my current state? If not, how can I increase in holiness so that I am fully prepared? This is a serious truth of which Advent reminds us, and through prayer and confession the Lord will not fail in turning our hearts towards Him, towards love.
Lastly, though I’m not sure Mariah Carey sings this one, I’d like to offer a Christmas carol to support this reflection. The soft and harmonious melody of “In the Bleak Midwinter” brings a sense of peace into my heart. However, its lyrics speak powerfully as to the regal humility that was Christ’s entrance into this world, asserting how “a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.” While the outwardly expression of the Christmas spirit during Advent certainly brings happiness and cheer, one of the most powerful ways we can prepare ourselves is by emulating our Lord’s humility and inwardly striving for detachment from what displaces God in the center of our lives.
Question for Reflection: After listening to “In the Bleak Midwinter” I encourage you to ponder, what are the idols and distractions in your life that detract you from a pure heart and a strong relationship with God?